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Constant Cough to Swallowing Difficulty: 6 early signs of thyroid cancer

Individuals experiencing any of these signs or symptoms are strongly encouraged to consult their healthcare provider promptly. While these signs are associated with thyroid cancer, it is crucial to acknowledge that they can also arise from non-cancerous conditions or cancers affecting the neck area.

Written By : Health Desk Edited By : Kristina Das
New Delhi
Published on: March 01, 2024 12:32 IST
Thyroid Cancer Signs
Image Source : FREEPIK Early signs of thyroid cancer.

Thyroid cancer may manifest through various signs and symptoms, prompting individuals to be vigilant about their health. A primary indicator is the presence of a neck lump, sometimes exhibiting rapid growth. According to Dr Johan Varghese, Honorary Consultant Endocrinologist, Holy Family Hospital, this palpable abnormality, though alarming, can also result from non-cancerous conditions, necessitating a comprehensive medical evaluation for an accurate diagnosis.

  1. Swelling in the neck is another potential sign of thyroid cancer, highlighting the impact on the thyroid gland's normal functions. As the thyroid plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism, any disruption, such as that caused by cancer, can lead to noticeable swelling. However, it's essential to recognize that neck swelling can have various origins, emphasizing the importance of seeking professional medical advice.
  2. Pain in the front of the neck, occasionally extending to the ears, is a symptom that individuals with thyroid cancer may experience. This discomfort, though alarming, can also be associated with non-cancerous conditions. Persistent or recurrent pain should not be ignored, necessitating prompt consultation with a healthcare professional for a thorough examination.
  3. Hoarseness or persistent voice changes are notable symptoms of thyroid cancer. The thyroid's proximity to the vocal cords makes it susceptible to alterations in voice quality when affected by abnormal growth. It is crucial to recognise that persistent voice changes should not be dismissed, and medical attention is warranted to determine the underlying cause.
  4. Difficulty swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia, is another symptom linked to thyroid cancer. The tumour's growth may impede the normal swallowing process, causing discomfort and difficulties in food passage. Individuals experiencing trouble swallowing should promptly consult a healthcare provider for a comprehensive evaluation.
  5. Trouble breathing is a more advanced symptom that may occur if the thyroid tumour compresses the airways. While less common, persistent respiratory difficulties necessitate immediate medical attention to assess the extent of the issue and determine the appropriate course of action.
  6. A constant cough not attributed to a cold or respiratory infection can be a less overt but significant symptom of thyroid cancer. This persistent cough, when combined with other thyroid-related signs, underscores the importance of seeking medical advice for a thorough examination and diagnosis.

Notably, thyroid nodules are often benign, reinforcing the necessity for a professional assessment to discern the root cause and determine the appropriate course of action.

Heightened awareness of the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer is imperative for early detection and intervention. Timely consultation with healthcare professionals enables a thorough evaluation, accurate diagnosis, and the initiation of appropriate treatment. Regular check-ups and proactive communication with healthcare providers are essential components of maintaining thyroid health and addressing potential concerns promptly.

Thyroid cancer per se is very rare. And 85-90% of thyroid malignancies are curable with near-normal long-term survival. The number of cases of thyroid cancer being detected each year has been increasing in recent years but that is largely due to better diagnostic tools and heightened awareness. 

Having said that one needs to be aware that anything firm or hard felt in the neck region even without any pain needs to be evaluated by a specialist. As is the case with all malignancies an early diagnosis is favourable.

Long-standing swelling in the neck associated with recent hoarseness, voice change or difficulty in swallowing or breathing may indicate an advanced form of thyroid cancer and requires urgent evaluation by a specialist.

A constant dry cough not attributed to a cold or respiratory infection can be a less overt sign of malignancy. We usually evaluate a neck swelling by an ultrasound or sonogram of the neck and if required sometimes remove a part of the nodule for evaluation by a small needle. 

Thyroid nodules once evaluated and found to be benign (as is seen in the majority of the cases) need not be surgically removed unless having local symptoms or cosmetic concerns but need to be followed up periodically. The idea behind this article is to be aware and more conscious of one’s health.

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